While a growing number of companies in South Africa and around the world are considering the adoption of a four-day workweek, the country’s labour laws will likely need amending to permanently accommodate such a shift.
Abigail Butcher, associate in the Employment Law practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, noted that South Africa has standing law and negotiated positions around working hours, which complicate any formal shift in scheduling.
She pointed to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) which regulates the working hours of employees who earn under the ministerial threshold of R224,080.30, and certain sectors which are regulated by a sectoral determination.
Companies can also enter into collective agreements with trade unions which regulate working hours, she said.
“In light of the above, it is clear that conditions of employment such as working hours are highly regulated by labour legislation, and in order for South Africa to implement a four-day work week, this legislation would effectively need to be amended,” she said.
Where things are less complicated, are for employees who earn above the R224,000 threshold.
The working hours of employees earning above the threshold are not regulated by the BCEA. These ‘white collar’ employees are likely to work in an office environment and have flexibility when it comes to their schedules, Butcher said.
“With the advent of Covid-19 and hybrid working environments, productivity and employee wellness will be the determining factors as to whether a four-day work week is implemented.”
While the four-day work week has become something of a buzzword in the post-Covid working world, Butcher noted that feedback around the change has been mixed.
In respect of shift systems, some employers have found that while the employees are generally happier working fewer hours, the extra hours that are lost need to be made up by hiring more staff which can lead to extra costs for the business.
“In New Zealand, research found that while employees were attracted by the reduced working hours, the amount of output they were required to deliver was still the same. Accordingly, several aspects of their work intensified after the change, including pressure from management.
“While the idea of a four-day work week appears to increase the morale of employees, the fact that their productivity must remain despite fewer hours could result in cases of burnout and increased stress.”
On the other hand, some of the world’s most productive countries, like Norway, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, on average work around 27 hours a week, Butcher said.
“Being very much in a trial stage, there is insufficient evidence on the success of a four-day work week, especially in varied labour forces which perform work in vastly different sectors, to make determinative recommendations.”